Growth in World air traffic 1970-present


Senior Member.
Chemtrail believers frequently question why contrails are becoming more prevalent today compared to previous decades. The answer of course is the almost exponential growth in world air traffic since 1970, a period just before deregulation began in the USA and elsewhere.

Here is an ICAO news release from 1970 regarding traffic figures.

While the figure of 386 million passengers is significant, the real measure is the RPK's or Revenue passenger kilometres carried out which takes into account both aircraft capacity and the distances flown, to give the true indication, or volume of air traffic in a certain year.

In 1970 the RPK figure was 465,000 million RPK's. In 2011 that had increased to 5000,000 million, including a 53% since 2000. This graphic was drawn from ICAO's forecast document.


The RPK figure is forecast to more than double in the next 20 years.


This is the main reason contrails are becoming more prevalent and will continue to do so in the future.
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Senior Member.
While the figure of 386 million passengers is significant, the real measure is the RPK's or Revenue passenger kilometres carried out which takes into account both aircraft capacity and the distances flown, to give the true indication, or volume of air traffic in a certain year.

How does this break down into number of actual flights of potential contrail inducing planes (commercial, cargo, private etc...) per day/week/year etc? Most people do not realize there are literally thousands- if not tens of thousands- of flights every day.


Senior Member.
I will try to find something but in the meantime, if you use the passenger aircraft fleet figures in the graphic provided, work conservatively on 5% of that number being involved in scheduled maintenance on any given day, and realise that the vast bulk of the 95% remaining are flying in the various worldwide domestic markets which means they would be scheduled for, say, an average of around 4-5 flights a day, then the number becomes quite impressive.

Mick West

Staff member
Looks like there has been a strong decrease in actual aircraft operations in the US in the past 15 years. Aircraft operations are defined as takeoffs and landings.


Shetty, K. I. (2012). Current and historical trends in general aviation in the United States (Doctoral dissertation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Cambridge, MA 02139 USA).

Historical data from :
View attachment 21006

General aviation is small planes, not commercial flights.


Senior Member.
Looking at the graphs, the number of operations has been about the same in recent years as in the mid-70s.
Edit: for General Aviation.
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Senior Member.
Takeoffs and landings for air carriers from 1990 to 2015 in the US (from here: )

It was 13 million in 1990 and 13.9 million in 2015. That's only a 7% increase in 25 years.
The number of passengers ("enplanements"), however, increased from 460 million to 626 million (36% increase). Probably explained by bigger airplanes.
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Senior Member.
This FAA page has a whole bunch of numbers about air traffic in the US for 2016. 15.6 million commerical flights handled by the FAA in 2016, or an average of 42,700 each day.

In 2004 it was 28,537.

Worldwide, flights topped 100,000 per day (37.4 million per year) for the first time in 2014, according to this.

For 2004, this report says worldwide scheduled yearly flights were "almost 28 million" and that "the growth of world air travel has averaged approximately 5% per year over the past 30 years."

If the above quoted figures are right, though, for between 2004 and 2014/16 it puts average yearly growth at around 3.4% (US) and 3% (worldwide).

I'm surprised there isn't a nice handy graph showing total flight numbers year-on-year. Perhaps there is and I just can't find it. Though others have said it doesn't seem so easy to locate the figures.
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